NFT London Nightlife

London / Nightlife

Stumbling out teary-eyed into the light, pallid skin wrecked by long hours in darkness and surrounded by strangers, it's hard to believe that this time last year we were counting out our coppers and begging our friends to buy us another drink. Okay, so we're not completely in the red and London's cash registers may not be overflowing with moolah as they once were but we've managed to open new bars, forget about old ones, sing ourselves raw in amateur karaoke sessions, break a few bones dancing in scary clubs we shouldn't be in -- you know, the usual. What is scary though is how fast the night-time landscape is changing around us. These days walking around Soho is like picking your way through a war zone; with The Astoria and its surrounding area now bulldozed, it sometimes feels the heart of London's soul has been ripped out by greedy developers. Maybe it has, but we're not dwelling on all those bad vibes: we're too busy digging amateur folk in Stokey, or quaffing luxurious cocktails in the depths of Old Street, or down the front at some dingy gig hellhole in the depths of Brixton having the time of our sorry little lives. As you may have gathered by now, London's options are as endlessly varied as her tastes. And being children of the post-modern age (or is that post-post-modern age?) we've given up caring about tribalism and consistency and have dived head-first into everything at once. Economy, what economy?

Local Pubs For Local People
North to South, East to West, whether in Zone 1 or Zone 6 the London 'local' encapsulates the city itself. That calm beating heart of the old geezer talking of times gone by in Limehouse or the adrenaline-fuelled racing heart of the City's next 'big thing' in Farringdon -- all echoing around a city that tells its stories, shares its woes and gets itself together over a pint of 'Pride' in the local boozer. The cavernous bowels of Dickens' favourite local Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (Map 15) now provide tourist-free shelter for City folk. Borough's George Inn (Map 106), with a dazzling selection of ales, is as ancient as they get. The Lamb (Map 14) is where to go after your office job if you want to pretend you're a writer, while the Grade-II-listed Princess Louise (Map 4) is sparkling with old man-ness but in the heart of London. In Hampstead, it's got to be the pretty, and pretty hidden, Holly Bush (Map 56). And while it's been gentrified since it was run by the Kray's mum, The Carpenter's Arms (Map 91), is still a great, tiny little foreign beer-heaven. Modern rot has yet to set in at Highgate's old-school The Winchester (Map 52) and you can eyeball woodworm in the brilliant The Compton Arms (Map 80). The old-timers in Rotherhithe's dream-of-your-dad The Mayflower (Map 109), and Brixton's The Effra (Map 150) will have never heard of the 'Inter-web', never mind Facebook. Way out west, The Dove (Map 40) draws the local collective with its cosy fire, relaxed chatter and river spectacular.

Keep it Real Ale
The Carling brigade can take a hike, this town takes Price (sic) in its real brews. The Wenlock Arms (Map 83) proves we can do down-to-earth ale-enthusiast and The Jerusalem Tavern (Map 3) shows we can do fake ye olde times with amazing beer selection as well as any Lancashire local. Borough's Market Porter (Map 106) has a great selection, and is full of market traders counting their cash. Lovers of the Belgian stuff (and trendy Hackney-ites) will feel at home in The Dove (Map 89) and those after an even greater selection of European ales without the pretentiousness should head to Quinns (Map 71) in Camden. Too fancy? For great ale selections, there's The Royal Oak (Map 106) also in Borough, where the taps come courtesy of the Harveys brewery. Pitfield, Freedom and St Peter's, meanwhile, supply Islington's Duke of Cambridge (Map 83) with organic beer, if you like that kind of stuff. In Parson's Green The White Horse (Map 49) is a Victorian gem and the Roebuck (Map 38) provides Chiswick with an ever changing selection of local and national brews.

Good Mixers
While our ale keeps us down to earth, it's the lure of the cocktail that causes us to show off. Shaken or stirred, it doesn't matter. It's all about looking good with a long glass of the colourful sugary stuff dressed to the nines, glace cherry 'n all. For aesthetic hedonism we love Loungelover (Map 91) and Lounge Bohemia (Map 8). Martinis? You'll find us at the Charlotte Street Hotel (Map 3). At 5th View (Map 9) there's vistas of Big Ben with your Kir Royal and the secretive speak-easy mood of Milk & Honey (Map 10) comes with eight handy house rules, including "no star fucking." See also the plush Art Deco heaven that is Claridge's Bar (Map 2), while Montgomery Place (Map 29) serves Notting Hill a bit of old world cool. If you find yourself on Clapham High Street then you could do a lot worse than heading to The Loft (Map 143) -- a modern, lush escape. One can feel studious while nursing a punch bowl at The Cinnamon Club (Map 22), nestled perfectly inside the old serenity of the Old Westminster Library. On the contrary, vivacious Buena Vista (Map 143) brings a bit of Havana to the streets of Clapham and is the perfect spot for a mojito.

Let's face it, sometimes the booze just isn't enough to keep you entertained. Destroying your internal organs with the stuff is just sometimes a little boring, right? Jamboree at Cable Street Studios (Map 97) is an artist-run warehouse space that does hipster rave-offs. The Windmill (Map 150) of Brixton is a handmade weirdo magnet and The Battersea Barge (Map 134) is a friendly old pub -- on a very thin barge. The Coronet (Map 74) in Holloway has a desolate, nostalgic charm as does perhaps the weirdest pub of them all, the Palm Tree (Map 93), a celebration of British antiquity with crooners of a certain age most nights.

If the merciless prohibition regime of 2007 hasn't resulted in reluctant surrender, don't despair: from provisionally erected patios to all-year beer gardens to secret backdoors, London's ban-bashing creativity knows no boundaries. Great fag spots include the terrace at Proud (Map 71), overlooking Camden's roofs, the barbeque-and-beer-can courtyard of 93 Feet East (Map 91) and the tree-shaded garden of the Edinboro Castle (Map 77). Hang out in front of Highgate favourite The Flask (Map 51) or combine a late-night pint with a rollie in the backyard of the The Dolphin (Map 89). For clubbing, consider Egg (Map 79), where you're allowed to smoke in the massive garden. The Owl & Pussycat (Map 91) is not just a surprisingly pleasant pub in Shoreditch, it's also got a surprisingly nice garden, where smoking is not just allowed, dear friends, but encouraged.

We're Raving We're Raving
While the fierce bass from the basement at Plastic People (Map 84) reverberates around Shoreditch, over at superclub Fabric (Map 15) the cool kids of the capital are bringing down the house with ... er, a bit of House music. For the groovier seeking a smaller joint try Guanabara (Map 13). The ever-so-eclectic Notting Hill Arts Club (Map 29) continues to come up with exhilarating and inventive nights, as does Brick Lane's 93 Feet East (Map 91) and 333 (Map 84). Cargo (Map 84) is for those who like a deep seated couch with their DJ while Madame Jojo's (Map 11) provides exactly the kind of decadence we demand from Soho clubbing. As long as lip fuzz is still trendy there's always the Moustache Bar (Map 86) and for quirky, artsy fartsery head to Passing Clouds (Map 88), both in Dalston, natch. For serious rockabilly, find Ye Olde Axe (Map 91) gentlemen's club on Hackney Road, where the rock 'n' roll starts as soon as the last naked girl has disappeared behind the big-mirrored wall.

Great Bars
George Orwell's ideal pub was all about "draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, motherly barmaids and no radio." These days we'd maybe add music straight from a blog, handmade decor and a dangerous vibe. For some if not all of these try up-beat Jaguar Shoes (Map 91). Freud (Map 13) or the French House (Map 11) in the West End are also solid contenders for boho schlock. But there's so much more: crawl from Barrio North's (Map 80) caravan to the country-house of Lost Society (Map 142), from the Island Queen (Map 83) to the Moijto-fuelled Mau Mau (Map 29). We like standing next to (would-be) artists at the ICA Bar (Map 23) and actor types on the terrace of The Cut Bar (Map 104). Or in front of a movie screen, at Roxy Bar and Screen (Map 106). Later on, you'll find us nibbling cheese in Dalston's Jazz Bar (Map 82), dancing to trashy music at Da Vinci's (Map 104).

Best Of The Rest
Want to feel exclusive? Members-only clubs are not only becoming ever more popular, but also ever more accessible. So there. Escape Shoreditch's terrifying hordes to the rooftop swimming pool of Shoreditch House (Map 91) or the boredom of Shepherd's Bush to the underground ex-toilets that have become Ginglik (Map 33). Of course, most of those in the know will drag you to the various warehouse raves that fire up every weekend. People like Real Gold ( are a good place to start if you fancy some of this awfulness. Remember it's not who you know but, oh wait, it is who you know.

To create your own entertainment and/or embarrass yourself, Lucky Voice (Maps 10, 80) is one of many joints offering private karaoke booths for you and some people who will most probably cease to be your friends after they hear you massacre 'Time After Time.' Shoreditch's exposed brick joint The Book Club (Map 8) has a bit of 'Social Athletics' on the bill -- ping pong, old chap? If relying on that notoriously joke-cracking ex-friend of a friend for your evening's amusement sounds a bit risky, consider these alternatives: The standard-setting Comedy Store (Map 11) (book in advance) and Covent Garden Comedy Club (Map 24), or, at the pub end of things, The Bedford (Map 148) and the Camden Head (Map 78). If you think that YOU should in fact provide the evening's amusement, well, the Poetry Café (Map 13) gives you the stage. Or stay at home and talk to yourself; it's cheaper.

Music, Sweet Music
London's veins are pumped by its mellifluous melodies, the driving sound of grime, the sneers of angry young men and the coos of sweet maidens. Whether you're dub-stepping in the dark or jamming along at folk night there'll be something to hear at any given time of the week.

Strummin' Mental
This city's music scene is in a constant state of flux with bands, venues and styles falling in and out of cool lists quicker than a Ramones song. What never changes though is that there always is a scene and with that scene comes the venue. The good news is that there are so many great places to do this in. Yes we've got our share of corporate megaliths (that means you O2) but for every church of Carling there are two or three brilliant dives like the punky Grosvenor (Map 145) or the ever-mobbed Stag's Head (Map 84).

For the sweatily inclined there are infinite choices. Bethnal Green's Star of Bethnal Green (Map 92) (formerly the Pleasure Unit), Highgate's Buffalo Bar (Map 80) and Angel's Lexington (Map 79) are as pant-wettingly indie as they come but if you like harder or weirder stuff the Camden Underworld (Map 71) does all the metals while Cafe Oto (Map 86) handles experimental and improv. The MacBeth (Map 84) is very popular yet somehow suffers from a fun bypass but Monto Water Rats (Map 5) is an unshakeable legend. The refurbished Old Blue Last (Map 84) or Vice Magazine party HQ has surfed to the crest of the trend wave fueled by young kids attempting to be sexually harassed by older men like in their favourite adverts for American Apparel. Mid-sized venues for mid-fame bands? The Scala (Map 78) is a brilliant converted cinema. The now legal Barden's Boudoir (Map 86) has come a long way since it was a dingy dive run by gangsters and of course the ICA (Map 23) is the 'art-space' par excellence for all artistes who insist on that 'e' at the end of 'artist.' The Amersham Arms (Map 126) is a good place to watch some twonks you've been told to like by Dazed. The city's electronic music scene generally piggy-backs the guitars, but check out Cable (Map 107) and Lightbox (Map 134).

As for the classics, the Shepherd's Bush Empire (Map 33) and the breathtakingly beautiful Bush Hall (Map 32) remain west London's finest, while Camden stalwart Koko (Map 71) keeps rocking in the free world. The north London show is being stolen by Roundhouse (Map 71), though, boasting a healthy "I am Legend"-attitude and some bloody horrible Anthony Gormley statues waiting to jump from the top. Brixton Academy (Map 145) might be slightly overrated, but its sky-like ceiling remains awesome. If you have to do stadium-size, do stadium-size in style and get your seat in the Royal Albert Hall (Map 36), which is increasingly luring good non-classical acts. The refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall (Map 104), meanwhile, has kick-started more pop-oriented programming on the South Bank.

A World of Jazz And Blues
Camden's intimate Jazz Café (Map 71) seems to have no intention of stopping its relentless stream of first-rate jazz performances, getting in more soul, funk and pop at the same time, while Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club (Map 12), London's undisputed grandaddy of jazz original continues to offer up an eclectic programme of past and present. For some of the freshest jazz, alongside great contemporary folk and world music, head to Dalston, where the plush Vortex (Map 82) is a-buzz with free-spirited legends. On the other side of town, Fulham's small but perfectly formed 606 Club (Map 50) sets the tone with crammed, small tables within slobbering distance from the saxes. Catch excellent blues and singer/songwriter stuff every night of the week at Ain't Nothing But The Blues Bar (Map 10), or Denmark Street's 12 Bar Club (Map 12). Latin jazz breezes through the air at Archway's Caipirinha Jazz Bar (Map 52). For world music, the Barbican Centre (Map 7) leads the pack, but is easily beaten in atmosphere stakes by the Union Chapel (Map 80), an Islington church doubling as one of London's most beautiful venues and in scummy stakes by Dingwalls (Map 71) who continue to expand their programming. The home of folk is the brilliant Cecil Sharp House (Map 70). If classical music floats your boat, look beyond the obvious venues and settle amid the great acoustics of Chelsea's Cadogan Hall (Map 19), the historical brilliance of Hackney's Sutton House (Map 87) or the magnificent Wigmore Hall (Map 2), in Mayfair.

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Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

The Remedy
I wish there was a branch of The Remedy on every street corner but then perhaps that's why it's so special--because it is so rare to find somewhere that is this passionate about what they serve and that delivers. Of course, wine is the speciality here but this is not the place to come if you want your regular serving of Cab Sav. You can ask the waiter for a safe option but he is likely to offer you something that will challenge your tastebuds (in a good way). I had seen a chilled red on the blackboard which I fancied but the waiter quickly turned me on to a different one from a small producer who uses biodynamic methods. "Eets a leetle beet...funky so maybe you like to try first," he helpfully explained before pouring me a good glug of Adonis from the Loire Valley. It was indeed funky but I liked it. He let me finish the taster before pouring a full new glass. This is what wine drinking should be about, trying new stuff and not having your pants bored off by someone who spouts off about 'minerality' and 'oakiness' etc. Having tried something new on the libation side of things I stuck to the tried and tested on the food front and had an incredibly satisfying Toulouse sausage and chips followed by a more than perfect panna cotta but the seafood oriented specials and oyster 'happy hour' demand another trip.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Do not come to Casita on a Sunday. I repeat, do not come to Casita on a Sunday. I'm kidding, you're a grown-up, you can make your own decisions. But seriously, you WILL get merry in this place and you might have a sore head on Monday to prove it (this is in no way based on what happened to me by the way). The cocktails are generous and the bar staff will keep you entertained, plus they're not joking when they describe themselves as a 'cocktail shed' so you will definitely be forced to speak to other drinkers--a perfect formula for fun. Casita's famous tequila con verdita must be sampled and may just make you change your mind about the much-maligned liquor. It's a tequila shot followed by a pineapple, coriander, mint and chilli shot, which will do a little dance in your mouth. And all this in Shoreditch! Who knew? I didn't because I gave up having to wade through people talking about being a model/DJ/writer/musician whilst checking their hairdo in the nearest reflective material some years ago, but apparently lots of people do know about Casita and love it. So I'm late to the party, so what? It's a bloody good party.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Why would I be recommending an O'Neill's pub if you are, "not a tourist," in Muswell Hill? Or indeed if you are a tourist in Muswell Hill? Well because this one is a ruddy great converted church, that's why. Dating back to somewhere between 1899 and 1903 this flint and terracotta Presbyterian Church is quite a sight to behold. The only worship going on here though is at the altars of Sports, Music, and Booze. On a Saturday, there's big screen premiership action, plus there's a program of regular live music from Blues to Irish to Rock to Swing. Oh and they have a table tennis table--extra points for that. Not a bad stop-off for a plate of nachos and a cider (they serve South African favourite Savannah--extra points again) after doing your grocery shopping in Planet Organic, getting kitted out at Sweaty Betty, or whatever it is people do in Muswell Hill.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Brouhaha used to be The Garden Ladder, one of only a couple of stolid listings for the Harringay neighbourhood in the NFT London book since the first edition back in 2009. The locals were quite worried when it closed down but it seems that Paresh and Dipesh (who have taken over) have done well with the new incarnation. I'm not a great ale or beer drinker but the guest draft beverages were a major draw of the Garden Ladder and Brouhaha sold out of their Redemption beers on tap at the opening night according to CAMRA's (Campaign for Real Ale) Facebook page. They have draft Aspall's so this cider-drinker is happy. My partner in crime and I also thought it was a clever idea to have a Black Bull shot (Kahlua and tequila) between each pint of cider we sunk. It was good, you should try it. The place is neither a pub nor a cocktail bar but has a really friendly, laid back atmosphere as well as a varied clientele. It's also open in the daytime and I would happily come in for a brewski and a read of the papers. More food options to follow once the kitchen is refurbed apparently; till then, bar snacks are available to soak up that tequila.

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Beth Siddons

The Book Club
We like the Book Club. We like Crap Film Club too. Which is good because every couple of months, Crap Film Club pitches up at the Book Club on a Tuesday night. Previous screenings this year have included spectacularly crap films, Birdemic and Miami Connection. On Tuesday, June 17, 2014 it's the film that John Barrowman would rather you didn't see, that's right, it's Shark Attack III Megalodon (don't worry about the previous two). The evening is suitably laid-back with crap snacks on hand, usually some kind of silly hat or headgear making an appearance, and a competition with prize-giving at the end of the night. In fact, it’s probably the most unpretentious and genuinely fun night in Shoreditch; like being in your front room but with a bunch of like-minded strangers, a few cheeky sherbets to be had, and lots of laughs. The screenings are getting popular though, so be sure to book a ticket, and follow CFC on Facebook for updates

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5th View
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